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Consultant suggests Grove-by-the-sea
by Mark McDermott, Easy Reader
Published December 20, 2007

The City Council took some decidedly big picture steps toward pier and harbor area revitalization Tuesday night, approving a cosmetic overhaul of the pier that will implement “vintage design” elements and a long-term “transformative” improvement plan to add grander entrances, pedestrian and bike paths, plazas, restaurants and cafes. The council also received a much-anticipated study of the economic prospects for the pier and harbor area. The study, conducted by real estate consultant Larry Kosmont, suggested that while “significant portions of the Harbor Area are functionally obsolete” it is possible to achieve a “dramatic revitalization” if certain key properties are redeveloped and high quality new businesses are attracted to the area.

Kosmont compared the harbor area favorably to the Grove, a formerly economically underachieving property in West Los Angles that was dramatically revitalized as a “lifestyle center” boutique shopping mall in the last decade by famed developer Rick Caruso. Kosmont said the Redondo Harbor could “obliterate” the Grove because its 150 acres are by the ocean. “You have the Grove on the water,” Kosmont told the council.

Although he cautioned that there was “no one answer,” Kosmont repeatedly stressed the importance of an initial step toward revitalization – attracting an “A-credit” tenant, such as Flemings Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s, or Yard House restaurants, to occupy one of the city’s underutilized sites. One possibility he offered was to rebuild the long-vacant octagonal building on the International Boardwalk – a particularly key site in that it links the pier with the boardwalk – and to actively shop the property, offering financial incentives to attract an upscale tenant.

“Because one thing leads to another,” Kosmont said. “If you can hook in a major user, it changes what you are doing on the boardwalk.” There were several other recommendations in the study, including “re-tenanting” properties that are not the “highest and best use” and eventually to aggregating leaseholds so larger master leaseholders could be attracted to more effectively control greater portions of the area. But Kosmont’s underlying, more general message was simply that the city needed to more actively pursue a vision for the harbor area. He urged the council to set a target and move toward it.
“The more qualified users…will be attracted to larger opportunities with greater vision, and bolder vision,” he said.
City Manager Bill Workman said the message of the report was that the city needs to move beyond its more passive mindset.
“We are providing a proactive ‘This is what we are going to do’ approach,” Workman said. “This gives us the framework to be proactive rather than reactive or not active at all.”

The council for the most part embraced the recommendations.
“The time is now to really make something happen here,” said Councilman Steve Diels. “Doing nothing is not an option.”
Councilman Chris Cagle expressed some skepticism. He said the report seemed to ignore the political aspects of achieving such revitalization.“You kind of glossed over the fact we are dealing with the government,” he said. “You know, it’s very hard to hold things together politically.”

Kosmont said that some cities form nonprofit corporations to ensure continuity in managing such property assets. Neither the consultant nor any councilman addressed another part of the political equation, however – the “slow-growth” movement that is currently circulating initiative petitions aimed at requiring a public vote for all significant zoning changes.
The control of zoning, in fact, was one of the certainties Kosmont said the city needed to deliver to the development community to attract investment.

“You have chips to give out,” Kosmont said. “You have zoning chips, and you have financial chips.”
Kosmont’s report will be considered next by the Harbor Commission, which will offer specific recommendations for the council sometime early next year. The council moved more definitively forward in accepting the recommendations of another consultant, T. Keith Gurnee of RRM Design Group, who was hired this year to develop “revitalization concepts” for the public areas of the pier and boardwalk.

Gurnee’s recommendations were both large and small. Among the cosmetic improvements suggested for the pier – and approved by the council – were new aluminum railings with dolphin medallions, ornamental concrete on the boardwalk, vintage street lights, new benches, planters, and wood siding on buildings. The designs are all meant to have a “vintage” look inspired by the historic Redondo pier, enhancing some of the buildings with gables and peak roofs and accented facades featuring awnings, flags, and “playful” signage. But the council went beyond staff’s recommendation to also approve the development of a more long-term “transformative improvement” option, which includes staff
recommended “moderate improvements” such as rails, landscaping, benches, and lighting but also adds the possibilities of creating a new plaza at the pier’s main entrance, a waterside pedestrian path that links restaurants at the south side of the pier, and a pedestrian ramp down to the boardwalk from Harbor Drive. Perhaps most significantly, the “transformative” option also includes the creation of brand new leaseholds for restaurants and cafes on the pier.

Councilman Steve Aspel said the option offered the possibility of making the pier as vital as it was in its heyday by creating a possible “restaurant row.” “The pier is tired,” he said. “It used to be a great place before it got burnt and swept away…It was a date night, a destination – people came from miles and miles around.” Councilman Pat Aust was skeptical. He said a similar plan was developed shortly after the last great pier fire two decades ago. “You can see how much of it got done,” Aust said. “We did get the rails. We did get stamped concrete…but that is about the extent of what got done.”

Gurnee estimated the total cost of the entire transformative options could be as much as $25 million. He said that the California Coastal Conservancy has funding available for pier restoration efforts, and Prop. 84 monies would also be available, in addition to private sector investment. Workman reminded the council that “a vision without funding is a hallucination,” but he also noted that “without a vision, you can’t get funding.”
Cagle, in whose district the pier is located, just wanted to make sure that a long list of “little things” actually got done in the next year, including landscaping, lighting, new bathrooms, potted plants, and maybe the installation of a water fountain. He said he spurred the effort to look at cosmetic improvements in 2005 with the intention of making small, achievable improvements.

“I just wanted really basic stuff,” Cagle said. “Here we are two-and-a-half years and $90,000 [the cost of the design] later, and it’s morphed into all this stuff.” The council unanimously approved the recommendations. The RRM Design Group will return sometime early next year with the next phase of its design plans and what Gurnee called “a realistic” battle plan for achieving elements the transformative option. ER

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